Judge's gavel
Mini Mind Hike

How TV Shows Help Writers Develop Characters.

The Fall television season is a little over a month old. Soon, some of the freshmen shows will hit the chopping block. Identifying why a show is given a full season run or renewed for a new season can help writers create powerful stories.

Intriguing protagonists and a dynamic ensemble cast

Dynamic characters are the fuel that powers a show towards success. It’s impossible to imagine Jon Snow, of Game of Thrones, without his Stark brothers and sisters, his friend Samwell, and the men fighting with the Night’s Watch against the Night King and the White Walkers. Cersci Lannister and brothers Jamie and Tyrion, along with the Small Counsel of advisors, provide a formidable GOT antagonistic ruling force we love to hate. These characters played a big part in why millions of viewers were glued to the screen each season.

The interaction of an ensemble of characters

Character interaction with friends, foes, and family helps the audience or reader better understand more facets of our heroine.

A Major Mission of Zone One, the Set-Up

One of the main missions of Zone (Act) One, the Set-Up, of your story is to introduce the protagonist. In the Set-Up, we have to captivate the reader with the protagonist, as well as, the story. It is imperative to dive deep into what our protagonist, and all our characters, look like, sound like, and act like

Story Structure Safari: Looks Like, Sounds Like, Acts Like

When a writer tells me a character is a down-on-her-luck divorcee, or a highly successful lawyer, I challenge them with the exercise Looks Like, Sounds Like, Acts Like. I nudge them to go beyond the expected details of who their divorcee or lawyer is in this story.

The All Rise ensemble cast supports the development of each character.

A new legal show on NBC is All Rise. It is about a prosecutor turned judge. The main character, Lola Carmichael, is an African-American woman who’s a bit of a rebel in her new judge-focused world. I believe it is the characters in this show that have earned it a full season run.  

A judge's gavel reminds me of the show All Rise.

Episode Six helps the audience better see and understand the judge’s clerk, Sherri, from a surprising perspective. Sherri, the best clerk in the building, was asked, by a veteran judge, to work with the  rookie Judge Carmichael.  

From the very beginning, Sherri and the judge have been at odds. Sherri knows exactly how a courtroom should run and her attempts to keep cases progressing smoothly is continually thwarted by Judge Carmichael’s innovative rulings.

The Judge and Clerk Share Characteristics

Both women are smart, sophisticated, and dress impeccably. But Sherri’s control issues are frequently at odds with the judge’s often chaotic courtroom. Sherri is frustrated that Judge Carmichael is also headstrong and doesn’t follow the expected and traditional actions in court. Unwanted, negative attention has invaded Sherri’s courtroom kingdom. The judge makes it clear that the court is really her kingdom and not Sherri’s. 

During a high-profile case, the judge’s address is leaked online and she has to find a safe place to spend the night. Sherri volunteers to have her stay at her house.

Sherri’s Homelife Deepens Our Understanding

After entering the immaculate home, Sherri tells the judge in a very business-like tone to please take off her shoes and to wipe down the bathroom counter in the morning.

When the judge notices a jigsaw puzzle, of the Taj Mahal, she asks Sherri if she’s traveled there. Sherri immediately responds, “Please don’t help. I have a system.”

The judge enthusiastically picks up a photograph. “Oh my God, is that you?” Sherri snaps back. “Please don’t snoop.”

“You look good. Are you acting with a puppet?”

Sherri takes the picture away but then puts it back. She and the judge are literally on opposite sides of a column in the shot. Both are obviously feeling very awkward as the scene ends. When the judge suggests she should leave, Sherri responds, “No it’s lovely. We haven’t had social time. We can check it off.”

The Expected Shifts to the Unexpected.

The above scene’s elements cement what we know about Sherri. She is super neat, methodical, and relies on systems and lists at home as well as work. No signs of family or friends. Even social interactions with others seem to be on some list to be checked off.

In a later scene, the judge and Sherri are at the dining table drinking wine. The discovery of the photograph, of Sherri performing with a puppet, and Judge Lola’s positive reaction seems to have built some trust from Sherri.

The Past Informs Character Mindset today.

Sherri shares her childhood with the judge. Her parents were pot-smoking, acid-dropping, surfer-hippies in the 90’s. They lived on the beach at Big Sur and didn’t believe in rules or college.

“Wow.” The judge’s reaction was the same as mine.

At fifteen, Sherri’s parents came to the restaurant where she worked trying to save up for school. They ran up a $200 bill and left without paying. Sherri was fired on the spot. The next day she left home.

Sherri admits, “Twenty years later, I am obsessed with boundaries and lists and order and control.”

Sherri’s past experiences informs the audience about her actions and reactions now.

New Knowledge of an Ensemble Character Can Reveal Depth of the Protagonist.

Sherri’s self-reveal creates an opportunity to shine a light on a problem she sees with the judge in their high-profile court case and the defense lawyer. “Men like Adam Pryce, the chaos they bring is like a swarm of flies. Everything is a story. Everything needs to be spun. Pryce made you the villain and as long as you are the baddie, Olivia (the defendant) isn’t.”

Sherri tells the judge she’s been fighting Pryce with old, prosecutor skills. “It is a different fight now you are a judge. Don’t argue with him, control him. Bullies like Pryce thrive on fear. So what scares him?”

Judge Lola considers Sherri’s insights and immediately takes action with a phone call. The scene ends with a shot of Sherri’s satisfied smile.

The Power of Character Interations

The protagonist’s interactions with other characters are opportunities to enlighten the audience or reader about both or all characters involved. Conversations, actions, and behaviors reveal

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